Does Libya set a precedent? If a revolt breaks out again in Iran, and the regime cracks down with brutal force, will the United States support a Libya-style response? The New York Times, in its coverage of Libya, is already talking about imposing a no-fly zone against Syria. Is there an “Obama Doctrine” emerging?
It looks like it. And, unfortunately, it seems focused on the idea of humanitarian interventionism, with some add-ons and codicils, that make it broader than that. For instance, in his speech, President Obama spoke of “challenges that threaten our common humanity” as motivation for US intervention abroad, but then added that such interventions could occur in “maintaining the flow of commerce,” which sounds suspiciously like a declaration that the United States will go to war to protect the flow of oil.
Here is the relevant except from Obama’s address to the nation:
“There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security—responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us. They’re problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.”
I am not sure if that is an Obama “doctrine” or not, but it’s clear that the president is willing to use military force in situations that have nothing to do with national security and a lot to do with “values.” But one man’s values are another man’s imperialism, as we learned in Iraq in 2003.
Obama went on to declare that he’d be reluctant to act unilaterally, saying that he’d seek “to mobilize the international community for collective action.” To unilateralists on the right, such as John McCain, that’s namby-pamby talk. But Obama also said:
“I’ve made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests.”
Core interests? That’s a loaded phrase. Like “values,” “core interests” can mean anything to anyone. And combining “values” and “core interests,” it appears that Obama is ready to use US military force anytime, anywhere, for any reason that he—without Congressional approval or UN support—deems legitimate.